Reactive Hiking: Unlocking Your Ultimate Hiking Location!

IMG_8225.jpgEveryone knows how important it is for you and your dog to get out and be in nature. It is a great way to decompress and unplug from the rest of the world. However, this can be harder for reactive dogs. Reactive dog parents often are filled with stress and anxiety by the thought of taking their dog on a hike. The impending doom of the unknown often prevents owners from taking their reactive dogs out onto the trails. Having a go to hiking place can reduce your stress and make you feel excited and empowered about going out and hiking. Information is your best friend when it comes to successfully living with a reactive dog. This post will outline how to gather information about local hiking spots and use that to create the ultimate hiking location for your reactive dog.

Check out these amazing sight lines!

Brushy Peak Regional Preserve is my favorite place to hike with Odin. It is not the most beautiful place I have ever hiked or the largest or anything super special. What makes it special is how I was able to make it into the ultimate hiking experience for Odin. The park didn’t start out as my favorite, it took a great deal of time to turn it into my favorite hiking destination. When I first started bringing Odin there, I was always riddled with anxiety, worried that we would run into other hikers and dogs (which Odin would react to). But I continued to go back and adjust my hiking to make it into my favorite spot. At first I was taking Odin during high traffic time, and did not know the trails well enough to utilize their full potential. Over time, I learned when to hike and which trails to take. I learned where I would need to back track for oncoming triggers, the best spots to look for oncoming dogs, and which trails have less foot traffic.

There are some things about Brushy Peak that naturally made it a good choice for a reactive dog. The trails are wide with lots of open space around them which make them perfect for creating space. There is a natural flow to how people hike the park; most people tend to hike the trails in a clockwise fashion so most people are going in the same direction. There a lot of points on the trail that offer great sight lines of the trail ahead that allow for advanced planning of oncoming triggers. But putting the finishing touches on making the park the perfect place for us, took effort and planning from me.

What YOU can do to find and create your perfect hiking spot for you and your dog:

(1) Select a park to try out:IMG_8271.JPG

  • Check online to gauge trail width and whether you can create the required amount of space. Websites and Apps like All Trails make this easy to do.
    • These are some trail pictures provided by All Trails. I use these pictures to make decisions on whether or not the trails are a good fit for Odin’s needs.
  • Try to pick a park with a loop and with one parking lot. I like loops as people tend to take them in a clockwise fashion and reduces the amount of people you are going to encounter. One parking lot makes foot traffic easier to gauge.
  • Pick the park with the leash laws that are appropriate for your dog
    • Some reactive dogs do great off leash, whereas others would do better at a leash only park.
      • Odin does great with other dogs off leash, but the PRO’s of Brushy Peak (a leash only park) outweigh his needs to be off leash.

(2) Learn foot travel patterns:

  • Without your dog, check out the park at different times of the day, on weekdays, and on weekends. Sometimes you are able to do this by just checking the parking lot, whereas other places you may need to get out on the trail (this is why I like that Brushy Peak has one parking lot, it makes it very easy to gauge how many people are on the trails)
  • Check online to see if they have foot traffic reports (I like to use All Trails).

(3) Learn the trails of the park like the back of your hand:

  • Hike the trails without your dog and take a map. Highlight the areas where there is extra room to create space, where the trails are narrow, where the views create long sightlines to see oncoming hikers/triggers, how many people you pass, and any other observations that you think will influence your hiking.
  • Keep hiking the trails (with or without your dog; this will be completely up to your own experience and dog reactivity level). This is the only way you will become an expert of your hiking spot.

(4) Make your hiking rules and stick to them:

  • Once you have gathered some information, start creating rules and stick to them.
    • For example here are some of my rules for hiking Brushy Peak with Odin:
      • Only hike on weekdays (anytime) or Sunday mornings (need to be on the trail by 09:30 am)
      • Always travel in a clockwise fashion around the loop
      • For hiking the 4.5 mi loop: only if there <10 cars in the lot
      • For hiking the 6.1 mi loop (this loop gets less foot traffic): only if there are <15 cars in the lot.
      • If there are >15 cars in the lot, we are not hiking.

This advice is geared towards finding a great location near you that you can consistently hike with reduced stress. I do not use this method for every single place I take Odin, but this has made Brushy Peak my go to hiking spot when I want to get out into nature. I have another practice when choosing new places to hike with Odin that I will post a little later (once I actually write it up). Also if your first location does not work out, keep trying. The perfect hiking place for you and your dog does exist, you just need to find it and shape into the ultimate hiking spot.


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